Educating Peter # 58

July 28, 2013

Michael has thrown two songs my way this week. They’re both from the movie St. Elmo’s Fire, and Michael told me to choose one.

Well, I’m going to be difficult and comment on both of ’em.

Full Disclosure: I’ve never seen St. Elmo’s Fire, so all I have to go by with these two songs is the sounds they make. I don’t have any inkling of how they relate to whatever’s in the movie. As a result, I have absolutely no emotional attachment to either song.

Full Disclosure, Part 2: I never saw any of those American teen-angst movies in the 1980s (e.g., The Outsiders, Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, St. Elmo’s Fire, Pretty In Pink etc.). I was the right age (i.e., a teenager), but not the right temperament (i.e., I wasn’t interested). I did see Valley Girl. But that’s all.

I am, however, hideously familiar with a fair amount of the songs from those movies, due to them being played over and over again on the radio and television back then.

John Parr – “St. Elmo’s Fire (Man In Motion) (1985)

0:00-0:18 – You can tell immediately that this was recorded in the mid-’80s, at the height of the period for the Top 40 where the sound of real musical instruments appeared to be anathema to the commercial music industry. This is one of the reasons I loathe the music of the ’80s. In this introduction, the only thing that sounds remotely real to me is the hi-hat in the right channel, but even that sounds more processed than a hi-hat needs to be.

0:18-0:34 – Ugh. John Parr has started singing, and he’s competing with so much electronica (i.e., synthesized sounds) in the mix that he has to remove all subtlety from his performance. He’s belting it out. (Admittedly, he’s not bellowing in the way Tom Jones does, but there’s a distinct lack of finesse in Mr. Parr’s vocals.)

That’s something I can say about popular music in the mid-’80s: it wasn’t big on subtlety.

By the way, David Foster wrote both the songs on offer today. When John Parr started singing, it instantly brought me back to something I saw when I was finding links to the artists and songs. In the Wikipedia entry for David Foster, it quoted Rolling Stone magazine from 1985 describing Foster’s music as “bombastic pop kitsch“. I think that describes perfectly what I’m hearing.

0:34-0:43 – I like the vocal melody.

0:43-0:45 – That’s a horrible thing to do to an electric guitar.

0:46-0:49 – I thought it was funny when Jack sang the deep-and-meaningful line “You know you can’t quit until it’s won” very earnestly and it was immediately followed by the ‘brap’ of a synthesized trumpet.

0:55-0:58 – And when Jack intones in all seriousness, “Only you can do what must be done”, it’s followed by the horrible thing the producer does to the guitar.

This is one way-over-produced song.

And those lyrics…

The more I’m listening to the lyrics, the more I’m thinking that, instead of being placed in a teen-angst movie, this song would be better suited for a fist-pumping feel-good film – something like Rocky.

I must admit that I really don’t want to hear the rest of this song. As far as I’m concerned, I’ve heard enough. I know I haven’t gotten as far as the chorus, but I know how that goes (thanks to its inescapability on the radio in the 1980s).

However, I must put my personal complaints aside and persevere.

1:00-1:04 – At least it has that tune I like.

1:07-1:09 – John is shouting a bit louder now (“And you’re trying to break free!”), and I know what that means. There’s a dramatic pause, and…

1:10-1:27 – The chorus.

It’s catchy, I’ll give it that. But John is shouting so much now that I’m surprised he doesn’t have a sore throat.

Trivia: The two notes of the synthesized trumpet at 1:21-1:22 sounds to me like it’s blowing a raspberry.

1:28-1:30 – The sound that John makes here at the end of the chorus is… um… ah… I don’t quite know how to put this delicately, so I’m just going to have to come right out and say it. John sounds like he’s sitting on the toilet, and he’s constipated, and having a hard time.

Unfortunately, I’m now picturing John Parr sitting on the toilet in a state of distress. (With the record producer on the other side of the door, saying “That sounds great, John!”)

Note to John Parr: If you ever get to read this, John, I’d like to sincerely apologise for the previous two paragraphs. They were uncalled for.

1:31-1:30 – Back to the verse.

Why on Earth was that dive-bombing sound (1:33-1:35) put in the song? What purpose did it serve?

And what made that tinkly series of notes from 1:35-1:36? Was that some sort of keyboard?

I’m alarmed that the producer managed to find a way to put even more sounds in this song. For this verse he’s added a ghastly – or more accurately, ghostly – guitar that has had virtually all its frequencies removed except for the very top ones. That is an incredibly trebly guitar. (You can hear it at 1:37-1:38, 1:40-1:42 etc.)

From 1:41-1:44 is a background singer who sounds like Michael McDonald. I don’t think it is Michael McDonald, just someone who’s trying to sound like him.

1:53-2:01 – It’s the tune I like.

2:01-2:27 – And the chorus I don’t need to hear again. I’ve heard it more than enough thank you.

2:27-3:06 – Ah, that was a slight surprise. This is the middle eight (which wasn’t a surprise at all), but what was unexpected was the chorus preceding it. At 2:19 the chorus went into double-chorus mode, but when the chorus repeated itself it last only half a chorus. In other words, it was a chorus-and-a-half. Odd. Anyway, now we’re in the middle eight.

In this (rather long) middle eight are the lyrics, “Just once in his life / A man has his time” (2:49-2:55). Oh dear, this is one earnest song.

Yep. Bombastic Pop Kitsch.

3:06-4:12 – This is the chorus repeated, and then the song fades out. As the song fades, John offers the appropriate vocal exclamations, all delivered at maximum volume (e.g., “BURNIN’!”, “BURNIN’ IN ME!” etc.)

I do hope Mr. Parr’s constipation clears up.

***

David Foster – “Love Theme From St. Elmo’s Fire (1985)

0:00-0:15 – What’s going on here? This is supposed to be a love theme, and instead of strings – a real, actual string section – it’s all played on a synthesizer. What gives? Oh, that’s right. It’s the mid-’80s. I forgot.

0:15-0:31 – A piano plays the theme, and my first thought? Richard Clayderman. (Specifically this.)

0:31-0:33 – Oh no, it’s that “ice crystal” synthesizer sound.

This music is now reminding me of a track by ABBA called “Crazy World“.

0:46-1:00 – Yuk. Mid-’80s drums.

1:00-1:01 – And double yuk for that horrid synthesizer tom-tom fill. What’s wrong with using real tom-toms? Oh yeah. The mid-’80s.

1:17-1:28 – This is the next part of the song, and I can’t think of anything – positive or negative – to say about it.

This is not my kind of easy listening. Herb Alpert, Bert Kaempfert, James Last et al – Yes. David Foster – No.

1:28-1:43 – Another part of the song. I don’t know if this a repeat of something played earlier in the track, because my mind has turned to mush.

1:43-2:13 – A saxophone solo. Of course.

2:13-3:31 – The rest of the track. Mush.

I’m glad the whole thing was only three-and-a-half minutes long.

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Educating Peter # 57

July 21, 2013

This week Michael has reached into his bag of ’80s songs and pulled out “Please Stand By” by The Shivvers, a Milwaukee power pop band. (I know they’re a power pop band from Milwaukee because their compilation album is rather helpfully called Lost Hits From Milwaukee’s First Family Of Powerpop: 1979-1982.)

Before I listen to the song, I feel compelled to comment on the band name. I think it’s dreadful. I can think of two reasons the band wanted to call themselves The Shivvers:

1. It’s normally so cold in Milwaukee that it doesn’t do justice to the temperature by simply saying it gives you “the shivers” – it gives you “the shivvers”.

…or…

2. It has something to do with “shiv“, the word used for a weapon used in prison. Maybe the band considered themselves so tough that they went around shivving people – because they’re “shivvers”.

But whatever the reason, I think the band name is dreadful.

By the way, Michael reminded me that I posted a song by The Shivvers ages and ages ago. It was their version of Eric Carmen‘s “Hey Deanie“, and I posted it as part of a “Hey Deanie” extravaganza. (The post contained five versions of the song.)

OK. Now for “Please Stand By”…

The Shivvers – “Please Stand By” (1981)

0:00-0:12 – Oh yeah. I like this introduction.

0:12-0:24 – This verse, not so much. It’s all a bit too staccato for my liking – especially the 2/4 bar (at 0:17) dividing the verse in two.

I’m afraid this verse is way too jumpy for me. It reminds me of one of the skinny-tie dance moves popular back in the day: pogoing. Now I’m picturing a lot of people pogoing in a sweaty venue, with this song being played very loudly.

0:24-0:30 – Wow. That part of the song passed by very quickly. Was it the chorus? I’m not sure, but I like how the last part of it (0:27-0:30) harked back to the introduction.

0:30-0:42 – Another verse. Pogo, pogo, pogo, pogo…

I do like the little fancy guitar frill at 0:40-0:41, though.

0:42-0:54 – The chorus again. I think.

Ding!

My brain just notified me of this:

The Shivvers – “Please Stand By” (1981) (excerpt)

Bobby Darin – “Dream Lover (1959) (excerpt)

0:54-1:06 – A key change, which means one thing: the middle eight.

Boy oh boy that was a short middle eight. This band doesn’t mess about with anything lengthy. Considering the brevity of this song, instead of “The Shivvers” I think it’d be more suitable to call them “The Brevities”.

This song’s probably going to finish sooner than I imagine, so I think I’d better start pay attention.

The singer is a little flat.

1:06-1:19 – Here’s another verse, and the singer is still singing a little flat.

I liked the guitarist’s frilly bit at 1:17-1:18. Unfortunately, it was obscured by the singer’s “please, please…”.

1:19-1:40 – And another chorus. This song is whizzing by.

“I want, a girl, to call, my own…”

Oh, here’s something different. The band are extending the end of this chorus (from 1:28). Fair enough. But I don’t hear the extension doing anything for the song except making it longer.

1:40-1:53 – Ah, here’s another middle eight. It sounds like it was shipped in from another song. (Or, putting it another way: it sounds like it belongs in another song.)

1:53-2:21 – A guitar solo. In two parts.

The first part is melodic, and I like how the guitarist made the effort to play something with a melody, instead of just a pile of phrases he’s learnt over the years.

After all that melodic playing, the guitarist chucks in a weird, fast thing (2:06-2:07).

And after the weird, fast thing, it’s the second part of the solo, where the guitarist goes into a different style of playing, with some bent notes (unfortunately, there’s a badly bent note at 2:12), and a couple of semi-successful attempts at pinching notes (2:14-2:16).

All in all, I enjoyed the solo.

2:21-2:33 – Another verse. And the singer sounds as she if she’s getting a cold. (Must be that Milwaukee weather.)

2:33-2:46 – And another chorus. Where did that acoustic guitar come from?

2:46-2:58 – Here’s another extension of the chorus, but this time with tricky singing.

Ding!

The Shivvers – “Please Stand By” (1981) (excerpt 2)

The Cars – “Just What Needed (1978) (excerpt)

2:58-3:13 – Yet another extension of the chorus, but a little different from the previous one. This one features a really flat note from the singer (3:01). It made me wince.

***

I didn’t mind “Please Stand By”.

Oh, and here are the full versions of the songs that were excerpted earlier in the post:

Bobby Darin – “Dream Lover (1959) (stereo)

Or, if you’re a ’50s purist:

Bobby Darin – “Dream Lover (1959) (mono)

The Cars – “Just What Needed (1978)


Educating Peter # 56

July 14, 2013

This week Michael has sent me a song from 1985 called “Lean On Me (Ah-Li-Ayo)”, by British band Red Box. It’s not a cover of this.

Michael chose it because the chorus was “so addictive”. We’ll see about that.

Red Box – “Lean On Me (Ah-Li-Ayo) (1985)

0:00-0:11 – Synthesizer set to “Ice Crystals”. No thanks.

0:11-0:28 – Wow, that’s a simple-minded tune. And I don’t mean it sounds like Simple Minds. I mean it’s more like something you’d hear in a playground.

0:28-0:39 – Those quiet drums remind me of this:

Puffy – “Thank You (2003)

0:39-0:44 – “Men on fire pray for rain.” I dare say they would.

0:44-0:49 – “Who are madmen, who is sane?” That’s a tricky one.

0:49-0:50 – That’s a cute little tune from the synthesizer.

0:50-0:53 – I think this is the chorus.

0:53-0:56 – Whoah! Where did all those people come from?

0:56-1:01 – OK. Now the drums are playing a regular beat instead of that dreamy, half-time stuff it was doing up until here.

I’ve only just noticed all the percussion going in this part of the song. I think it’s well done, and enhancing the track.

1:01-1:21 – Ah. This is the chorus.

Oo-er. A little metaphorical light bulb has gone off in my mind. I’ve heard this song before. None of this song sounded familiar until that chorus bounded into my mind saying, “Remember this catchy, catchy thing?”, to which my brain replied “I do indeed”.

I haven’t heard this song in aaaaages. I don’t think I’ve heard it since it was played on the radio in 1985 and did whatever it did on the charts here in Australia. (I have no idea what this song did on the charts in Australia.)

Enough reminiscing.

What is that sound at 1:12? Did a human make that sound, or was someone fiddling about with a synthesizer?

1:21-2:00 – And now we’re in the next verse. I was surprised at how abrupt that transition was.

The choir has decide to join in during this verse, with a little “Yeah yeah” (1:26), followed by all the singers cheerfully echoing the lead singer’s “Are we shouting, ever heard?” (1:27-1:31). In response to all the singers: yes, I can hear you loud and clear. I also had no problem hearing you all shouted, “Well, can we have a say?” (1:52-1:54).

2:00-2:42 – Here’s the second chorus, and I’m afraid the opening line (“From the very, very young to the very, very old…”) is getting stuck in my head. I don’t really want it stuck in my head.

By the way, this song’s combination of being catchy and not sounding like other songs on the charts in 1985 reminds me of another song from 1985 that was both catchy and unusual. Pardon me as I have a little break from “Lean On Me (Ah-Li-Ayo)” to listen to The Dream Academy‘s “Life In A Northern Town“:

OK. Now it’s back to the Red Box song.

2:42-2:52 – A little instrumental interlude that reminds me of “Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence” (1983).

2:52-2:58 – More of the instrumental interlude, but with some frisky drums that lead into…

2:58-3:41 – Another chorus.

“From the very, very young to the very, very old…”

That is now stuck in my head.

3:41-4:16 – An elaborate (lead-singer-less) verse. I thought the band were going pummel me with extra choruses, to really ram that tune into my head so it wouldn’t go away.

And the song faded out.

I must admit that the experience of hearing that song again was nowhere near as distressing as I thought it was going to be.

Thanks, Michael, for reminding me of a song that nobody seems to be interested in playing anywhere in public* anymore.

(*Radio, television, shopping malls etc.)


Educating Peter # 55

July 7, 2013

This will be the fourth week in a row that Michael has suggested a song released in 1980. I think Michael likes the music of 1980.

Anyway, this week’s song is “I’ll Take Her Out Tonight”, and it’s by the Tremblers, a band fronted by Peter Noone (he of Herman’s Hermits).

Tremblers – “I’ll Be Taking Her Out Tonight (1980)

0:00-0:06 – Standard power pop eighth-note “chk-chk-chk-chk” guitar playing to start the song.

When a skinny-tie song starts with chk-chk-chk-chk, it doesn’t usually remind me of anything in particular (it’s a ubiquitous power pop technique, especially in skinny-tie power pop), but this time it’s reminded me of a specific song. It’s reminded me of this:

Richard O’Brien, Patricia Quinn, Little Nell, Charles Gray – “The Time Warp (1975)

0:06-0:09 – Wow. When Mr. Noone started singing “I’ll be taking her out tonight…”, I thought it was a girl singing that.

0:09-0:20 – Peter Noone is not a girl.

The more I’m listening to it, the more Peter’s voice in this song sounds like Cheap Trick‘s Robin Zander singing very, very high.

0:20-0:45 – Up until now I’d only ever heard Peter Noone’s singing in Herman’s Hermits, so his vocals in this song are a bit of a shock. He’s fully embraced skinny-tie power pop.

I’m not minding Peter “I’m not a Hermit anymore!” Noone’s vocal delivery. It suits the music on offer here – although I could have done without Peter suddenly dipping his voice an octave lower than the preceding notes in “…and she won’t give you the TIME of day” (0:25-0:28).

And that’s a very skinny-tie vocal delivery of “SHE AIN’T GIV-IN’ nothin’ away” (0:28-0:31). You can hear the frustration in the voice that you hear in other skinny-tie songs that deal with the subject of frustrated love. (And by “other” I mean “almost all”. Singers in skinny-tie songs sure do have a lot of trouble with their prospective partners.)

0:45-0:57 – I’m not entirely sure that Peter is singing the correct notes in that ascending line (“But I could not stop myself…”, 0:46-0:47).

But Peter’s doing a very good job at sounding like a skinny-tie power-pop singer.

By the way, from 0:51-0:56 Peter sings a very odd line:

“And I would not let those guys try to talk me out of her.”

Just what does “…talk me out of her” mean? Does it mean he’s in her (I don’t want to picture that), and “those guys” are talking to him – while he’s in her (I don’t want to picture that either)?

This sounds like something I’d prefer not to analyse in any way. Next part of the song please.

0:57-0:59 – Shudder. Peter Noone whispering loudly is not something I’d like to hear too often. (I’d actually like to hear it not at all.)

1:04-1:05 – Ugh. He did it again.

1:09-1:25 – Boy oh boy that’s some high singing.

As far as skinny-tie choruses go, I think this is absolutely ordinary.

1:25-2:02 – Now it’s the second verse. More of the same.

2:02-2:03 – Please stop doing that.

2:08-2:09 – No, really. It’s horrible.

2:15-2:42 – Another chorus, then repeated with some extra-insistent drumming.

A guitar in the right channel at the end of the repeat is doing a two-note thing (2:40-2:42), and it reminds me of those old sirens that went “wee woo wee woo wee woo wee woo…”.

2:15-2:42 – This is the end part of the song, and it’s basically a repeat of the introduction. But what on Earth is that sound at 2:51-2:52? And is that a gunshot to end the song (2:53-2:55)? This is weird.

Or, more accurately, that was weird – because I’ve finished listening to the song.

And I don’t intend listening to it again.


Educating Peter # 54

June 30, 2013

Where does Michael finds these songs?

This week it’s “Can’t Get Close”, a 1980 track by Canadian skinny-tie band The Cry. I haven’t heard it yet, but I’m fairly confident that it’s going to be a skinny-tie song because of this:

I see skinny ties.

Technical Note Before We Get To The Song:

I’ve discovered that the version of “Can’t Get Close” that Michael supplied is in mono. (I had a quick listen.) I found a stereo version, and it was tagged as “remastered”, but it sounds awful. I’m going to listen to the mono version.

The Song:

The Cry – “Can’t Get Close (1980) (mono)

The Cry – “Can’t Get Close (1980) (stereo)

0:00-0:13 – This is the introduction, and it doesn’t bode well for the rest of the song. It’s all a bit anonymous-sounding to me.

But it has prompted me to ask a question I don’t usually ask in day-to-day life: Is that a flanged bass?

0:13-0:38 – Yep. It’s a skinny-tie song. An Elvis Costello-inspired skinny-tie song. And I must apologise for the amount of hyphens in the previous two sentences. Sorry about that.

This is sung well enough, and played well enough, but it’s not igniting any flames of excitement in me. I can, however, imagine this going over well in a live situation (i.e., at a gig).

0:38-0:50 – This chorus would definitely be well received at a gig. It has a shout-along quality that sweaty, inebriated audiences can yell at the top of their lungs.

By the way, the vocal melody of the chorus reminds me of the chorus of Johnny O’Keefe‘s “She’s My Baby” (1960):

(0:29-0:33)

Also by the way: This song deals with a chap who’s in a state of extreme irritation because he “can’t get close” to his potential romantic partner. Why are so many power pop songs concerned with frustrated love? There aren’t that many frustrated singers in The World of Power Pop, are there?

And one more thing: the last couple of bars of the chorus (from 0:47-0:50) reminds me a lot of the end of the chorus in The Rolling Stones‘ “Get Off Of My Cloud” (1965)…

(0:51-0:56)

Because of this, I think the chorus of “Can’t Get Close” is going to be followed by the verse of “Get Off Of My Cloud”.

0:50-1:15 – The singer sure sounds agitated in this verse.

1:15-1:27 – Time to shout along again: CAN’T! GET! CLOSE!.

1:27-1:40 – This is a repeat of the introduction. Coming as it does after the second chorus, my spider senses are telling me there’s going to be either a middle eight or a guitar solo appearing very shortly.

1:40-2:04 – It’s a middle eight.

2:04-2:17 – Here’s the chorus again. SHE’S! MY! BABY!…

2:17-2:29 – A repeat of the chorus. SHE’S! MY! BABY!…

2:29-2:58 – And a variation on the chorus. The big difference (which isn’t all that big) is the background vocals. There’s an elongated “action” (first time from 2:34-2:35).

And that’s about it for the song.

***

It’s a three-minute blast of skiny-tie-ness. (And there I go with the hyphens again.)

Hopefully, the singer finally found the “action” he was looking for. And I’d also like him to relax sometime.


Song of the day: Jackson Browne – "Lawyers In Love"

June 27, 2013

The other day, as Trevor The Plumber (Hi, Trevor!) was getting ready to drive away after another sterling bit of plumbing in the household, I asked him what he’s currently listening to on the CD player in his car. Trevor showed me Jackson Browne‘s 1997 compilation, The Next Voice You Hear: The Best Of Jackson Browne, and I told him that I enjoyed a bit of Jackson Browne, adding that I liked “Lawyers In Love” a lot. We were both shocked to discover that “Lawyers In Love” wasn’t on that particular compilation. Egad!*

So, this song is dedicated to Trevor The Plumber:

Jackson Browne – “Lawyers In Love (1983)

(*Sorry about getting carried away with the swearing there.)


Song of the day: The Rousers – "Here She Comes"

June 24, 2013

An American band called The Rousers asked me to talk about their album, Playing The Rock And Roll For You.

I was all set to do that, but I was waylaid by two things – the band name, and one of their songs – that distracted me from my mission (of listening to their album).

First, the band name:

When I searched for “The Rousers” for links to appear at the end of this post (I like to provide as many links to bands as I can), the search engine I used asked if I meant “trousers” instead.

Unfortunately, I now want to call the band “The Trousers”.

And secondly, the song:

I must admit that I didn’t get past the first song, “Here She Comes”. It’s not because that first song is awful and I didn’t want to hear any more. I thought it was fine. And I have no idea if the other songs are horrible.

I didn’t get past “Here She Comes” because within the first 15 seconds of hearing it I heard two musical coincidences, and the fun I had in getting the coincidences ready for this post distracted me so much that I forgot about the other songs on the album. (Note to band: Sorry, guys.)

Anyway, I’ll present you with “Here She Comes” and its coincidences, and point you in the direction of the album so you can listen to it at your leisure.

Here we go:

The Rousers – “Here She Comes” (2013)

And the coincidences…

The Rousers – “Here She Comes” (2013) (excerpt 1)

The Jags – “Back Of My Hand” (album version) (1979) (excerpt)

The Rousers – “Here She Comes” (2013) (excerpt 2)

Da Finals* – “Good Die Young” (1985) (excerpt)

And the full versions:

The Jags – “Back Of My Hand” (album version) (1979)

The Jags – “Back Of My Hand” (single version) (1979)

Der Vine Ills* – “Good Die Young” (1985)

I’m sure the rest of Playing The Rock And Roll For You is fine and dandy. (Well, maybe not dandy – but it’s probably fine.)

Official website
Reverbnation
CD Baby
iTunes

(*I’m unable to use the band’s real name because Blogger tells me off in a major way whenever I post any of their songs – even snippets.)